Once upon a time there was a handsome prince who lived happily with his wife Cinderella till, one day, she dropped her handbag on the palace steps. The prince picked it up, and immediately turned into a pumpkin.
As this alternative version of the famous fairy tale shows, guys would rather model diapers than be seen with a purse. That’s why you’ll never see a purse-snatcher sentenced to carry one. That would be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
It wasn’t always this way. Renaissance gentlemen carried purses in case they happened upon a succulent peasant, er, pheasant on the way home. But nowadays you’ll sooner see Pat Robertson performing in a cabaret than a guy with a purse. Including me.
I’d like to think that I’m not threatened by my feminine side. But after snuffling around in my head like a pig after a truffle, the best I can turn up here is the same old moldy fear of being cut off at the knees. Or a bit higher.
Superficially, it’s a matter of style. Our cowboy mystique encourages men to travel light. We don’t need a change of heels, lipstick, fragrance, contacts, and nail polish to go to 7-11. We’d cheerfully wear the same sweats to practice three years straight. Unwashed. The nerve gas incident in the Tokyo subway several years back was actually caused by a soccer player’s gym bag opening accidentally.
But it’s more than style. The same pro wrestling devotee who’ll face down an irate Cape buffalo with a slingshot will blanch to his root canals at the mere suggestion of touching a woman’s handbag. In the innermost recesses of our being there’s a strand of DNA that says, “Never, under penalty of listening to Roseanne sing duets with Fran Drescher, mess with a woman’s purse.” You learn this in middle school. It’s included in health ed books under the heading Biohazard: “The sanctity of a woman’s purse is like unto her virginitee. Keepa you hands off.”
And women enforce this rule. I get the feeling they’d rather endure a surprise gyno exam in the middle of a department store than reveal the contents of their handbag. Abuse this notion, and you’ll be lucky to escape with your life. You may think you’re dating Teri Hatcher, but if a woman catches you going through her purse, presto-- Aileen Wuornos!
Even when a man has permission to handle one, he treats it like anthrax. Ever notice a guy holding his wife’s handbag while she’s trying on clothes? He may as well have NOT A TRANSVESTITE stamped on his forehead. He’s got the strap bunched in his hand oh-so-gracefully, while wearing a pained expression suggesting he walked the dog prior to entering the store and the bag contains the results. He’s not looking or moving around very much, which is just as well, because his movements suddenly have become so stiff he’d trip over a thumbtack. Obviously, such a klutz could easily be mistaken for a slinky female wannabe.
Men’s purse handling skills are so poor we can’t even wear a belt pack properly. So indispensable to dropping a month’s salary at Epcot, they’re traditionally worn either behind us, so that we can be deprived of our valuables discreetly, or low in front, as if we’re auditioning for Chippendales. You’d think we could at least remember how the West was won and wear it on our hip.
How sad. There are times when pockets just ain’t adequate, especially if you’re packing a few extra pounds in thighs and tush. Stuff wallet, coins, keys into pants, you’re risking a serious wedgie. And you don’t exactly endear yourself to cashiers when you hand over a fistful of lint with the change.
Then there’s the sheer melodrama of purse ownership that we’re missing. Boffing the Other Woman with it. Sitting on it when you visit a grungy relative. The seasonal ritual of changing handbags, which women look forward to more than sweet corn.
We need help. Fashion designers, so adept at garnering the female buck, need to step into the fold, the billfold, and appeal to our vanity. At least one has accepted the challenge. Designer Louis Vuitton recently retailed a crocodile-trimmed handbag for forty grand. With a bag like that around, who needs a set of gold golf clubs? You could stow it in your Ferrari with room to spare. Enough for a carton of truffles.